Woodstock, Vermont (Part 1): Shopping and Strolling
Often referred to as the quintessential Vermont town by travel guides and magazines, Woodstock, Vermont, ups the aesthetic ante for historic charm. Stately old homes and buildings—Georgian Colonials, Federal-style, and Greek Revivals—circle the Green and are scattered throughout the village. With no ghastly power lines in Woodstock proper (they are all buried), it’s easy to imagine when horse-drawn carriages served as transportation and the town crier shared the news of the day.
In reality, charming places seemingly untouched by time are often the result of preservation efforts and financial backing. In Woodstock’s case, there are a few visionaries and benefactors to thank, starting in the late 19th century with George Perkins Marsh, who has been called America’s First Environmentalist. Frederick Billings, his granddaughter, Mary French, and her husband Laurance S. Rockefeller, continued to carry the conservation and stewardship torch. In honor of their efforts, those names appear sprinkled around town at places like Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park and Billings Farm and Museum for instance. But even better, their impact is seen in what has not changed over the years.
Forget about finding any national chain stores in town. The shops, boutiques, and restaurants are locally owned. No Bed Bath and Beyond. No Barnes and Noble. No Home Depot. No Marriot. Instead, there’s Aubergine’s, Yankee Bookshop, F.H. Gillingham & Sons, and The Woodstock Inn and Resort, which provides the perfect home base for strolling adventures.
There must be something in the water in Woodstock, because there is an ever-present theme of visual enticement that flows through so many stores. I fell in love with this quaint town over 15 years ago. And one of my favorite stores, where I first realized the fun of shopping for kitchenware and cooking gadgets (post-college empty drawers must be filled!), was and still is Aubergine’s. It’s relocated from the original corner basement spot to a bigger space on 1 Elm Street, but still stocks the finest products, including some locally made in Vermont.
A few doors down the street from Aubergine’s is 125 year-old F.H. Gillingham & Sons General Store, filled with necessities like groceries, housewares, toys and games, books, and hardware. By nature, general stores usually sell a little bit of everything. At Gillingham & Sons, not only will you find anything you need, you’ll also have plenty of options. For instance, if you want to buy some jelly, you won’t find just one old dusty jar that looks like it could be sold as an antique (and not in a good way). It’s quite the opposite. The store is 8,000 square feet, stretching through seven rooms. So, when I mentioned they have groceries, that means there is an entire room filled with wines. And if you go in looking for a jar of jelly, you’ll find a row of condiments and specialty foods that stretches the whole length of the front part of the store.
Naming things “Yankee” seventy-seven years ago was very trendy. The same year Yankee Magazine’s founder Robb Sagendorph started publishing his magazine about New England, The Yankee Bookshop opened their doors. Today it’s considered Vermont’s oldest continuously operated independent bookshop. This finely curated store with neatly lined bookshelves is well stocked with diverse and deep layers of irresistible books. Any bibliophile will find it difficult to escape without a couple must-haves.
Another favorite Woodstock shop stop—which sells gifts of pure whimsy–is Unicorn on 15 Central Street. According to Unicorn’s web site, proprietor Jeffrey Kahn has constructed a “tapestry of gifts ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.” In 2011, for the Editors’ Choice awards, Yankee Magazine called it the “Best Eclectic Gift Shop in New England.” From jewelry to gag gifts, you’ll exit Unicorn with a joyful twinkle in your eye, and a guaranteed grin, unless you are an incurable sourpuss. And even then, you might just crack a smile.
As one would guess, based on the reverence for nature shared by Marsh, Billings, and Rockefeller, the outdoors plays an important role in Woodstock.
Just outside of town, the Raptor Center at Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) provides sanctuary and rehabilitation for birds. Open year-round, visitors can tour the outdoor raptor enclosures that house around 40 permanent VINS residents (fewer during the winter) whose injuries prevent them from living in the wild. Geared towards budding wildlife naturalists, kids especially enjoy the raptor scavenger hunt, live raptor shows, Nature’s Playground, the Nature Nook learning space, and Rehab in Action where birds get nursed back to health.
There is so much more to do in Woodstock. In the winter, there’s skiing and cross-country skiing and special events like Wassail Weekend. In the summer and fall, there is hiking and biking. Year-round, you can fill up on fine food. Galleries. Shoe shops. History. An afternoon at Billings Farm and Museum. There is so much more to do in Woodstock, that we are coming back for a visit! We cannot wait. See what adventures Yankee Magazine’s Lifestyle Editor Amy Traverso finds. Her blog will be posted here next week.
Until then, some parting shots of the drive out of town.